Welcome to the Aldershot branch

Airborne Engineers Association

Aldershot Branch News

Aldershot - December 2020
Dave Rutter - Secretary

Similar to other branches, since the dreaded coronavirus struck we too have been forced to cancel all meetings together with our Spring lunch, annual BBQ and social gatherings.

9 Squadron Falklands Veterans Homage
It is now an established custom that ex-members of The Squadron gather every year in Aldershot Military Cemetery, on the Saturday nearest to the 14th June, to pay respects to the Fallen in the Campaign of 1982. It is an informal gathering with no vicars, prayers or sermons; just a gathering of friends showing their respect. A wreath is laid, the stories flow and Derek Broadbent takes some cracking photos. In ‘normal’ times we then repair to a local hotel for a couple of beers and some take a light lunch.


This year Covid restrictions prevented this so we enjoyed a couple of bottles of port and a blether in warm sunshine around the Airborne Memorial Stone in the Falklands Plot (close to the lower gate of the Cemetery). This has all the signs of becoming a tradition too!

In 2021 we will gather at 1045 for 1100 on Saturday 12th June. Any Squadron or ex-Squadron members who are in/around the Aldershot area on the day are most welcome (Mick Leather drove up from Wales this year!) In a heart-warming gesture, especially to John Pashley, a veteran from the Scots Guards Association usually joins us and lays a wreath. Berets, medals and jackets are worn by most but veterans in Squadron polo shirts or motorbike leathers are equally welcome. It’s about remembering our Fallen and Squadron Brotherhood, not parades.


On Thursday 6th August we once again returned to the Military Cemetery (social distancing sort of went out the window) to meet and greet the ‘Riders of Respect’ on their epic journey throughout the UK remembering those who perished during the Falkland’s conflict.

With the ongoing spread of the coronavirus and Government warn­ings of further ‘lockdowns’ it would seem that any return to normal life is yet still some way off. Not surprisingly, our members have no desire to attend any branch meetings in the near future.

On behalf of our members, we extend Healthy & hopefully, Wealthy, good wishes for the coming Festive Season to all members and their families of the Airborne Engineers Association.

Aldershot - December 2019
Dave Rutter - Secretary

Our August Bank Holiday BBQ held in the garden of Fred & Betty Gray, was once again an enjoyable event. Obviously the favourable weather and an excellent selection from the BBQ provided by master chef Tony Manley and a varying range of salad dishes provided by the ladies was most appreciated. For many years our hosts have opened their garden and home to branch members and it is most appreciated by all concerned.

Hosting the October AGM/Reunion in Banbury being some 100 miles from Aldershot produced a few communication problems and more than a few last minute amendments to the accommodation and gala seating plan. However, much of the stress was alleviated by Lisa, the extremely competent hotel manager.

Taking up the gauntlet for the organisation of the grand raffle, Dave Leibrick, ably assisted by wife Lorna and Billy Morris really came up trumps. Dave persuaded several civilian companies to make generous donations, affording us to offer star prizes of a 40” colour TV, 2 children’s bicycles, £100 cash prize and a complimentary 4-ball golf round. These were further boosted by a vast collection of prizes donated by association members.

During the AGM it was voted that the raffle proceeds be donated to Combat Stress. The sum raised was further boosted thanks to the ‘sales patter’ of Mark Desborough and also from the Crazy Golf competition organised by Billy Morris. In total, the sum of £1,915 was donated to the worthy cause of “Combat Stress”.

The late cancellation on Saturday afternoon of one couple and the failure to arrive by two other gentlemen, proved most advantageous for Danny McGowan, Fred Preedy and their wives, who arrived on spec hoping to be seated at the gala dinner. With yet a further amendment to the seating plan their hopes were fulfilled. Not to be forgotten for his obvious early memory loss, Jim Harrower was more than surprised to receive a phone call asking if he was on his way to the gala dinner. “When is it?” came the reply. “In approx... one and a half hours’ time”, was the reply. Jim made it with time to spare, but I’m not sure if the hotel management charged him for the Friday night accommodation that he had also previously booked!

From the general ‘thumbs up’ comments for the hotel and in particular the town of Banbury gave credit to the efforts of the Aldershot organising committee.

Branch member Bob Sullivan MBE became an ‘In Pensioner’ at the Royal Hospital Chelsea in May 2019. Our president, John Lee and Col Chris Davies MBE had made previous visits to Bob and to Col John Humphries and so with the weekend visitor of Michael Ellery, we made arrangements with Bob to visit him on Saturday 9th November.

Awaiting our arrival at the hospital guard room, Bob quickly, (he was mounted on a mobility scooter) took us on a guided tour to various interesting places within the vast building.

Our first stop was to the elaborate chapel then on to the ‘great hall’ that serves as the main dining room for the 300 or so pensioners where he indicated his favoured seating place and the following mornings extensive breakfast menu, which appeared to cater for every conceivable dietary requirement.

Bob & Mike Ellery in the Chapel

In what appeared to be a ‘Gentleman’s drinking bar, but that was way back, as the hospital now has 10 lady ‘Chelsea Pensioners’, we paused for a pint. How much? It seemed that the standard price for most ales and wines was a mere £2.30!

Suitably watered, we were then directed to Bob’s accommo­dation. It was amazing how much had changed since my last visit some 12 years ago. Gone had the tiny berths as they were then known, to be replaced with a reasonable sized room with en-suite facilities and other homely comforts. We were allowed to try for size Bob’s tricorne dress hat - and Mike and I agreed that it wasn’t the most comfortable headdress!

All too soon it was time to bid our farewells with a promise to look out for Bob at the following day’s Cenotaph parade.
Bob took great delight in informing us that his wheelchair assistant for the forthcoming parade would be Johnson Beharry VC.

Unfortunately the AEA contingent for the parade was too far back for us to make contact with Bob, but managed to spot him on the BBC recording and he was also featured in the national newspa­pers on Monday the 11th November.

Following our December meeting, the branch will take a winter break during the dreary months of January and February and will surface again in March 2020.

On the behalf of our President, Sir Donald Spiers, Chairman, Dick Brown and all branch members, we extend seasonal greetings to one and each and a Prosperous New Year to all.

Aldershot - June 2019
Dave Rutter – Secretary

Since our last branch contribution into the Journal, we have suffered both good and bad occurrences.
On the negative side we have suffered the loss of a further two stalwart members. Harold Covington, a WWII veteran sadly passed away in January. Harold had been a regular attendee at our meetings, AEA reunions and he particularly enjoyed the BBQ's hosted by Fred & Betty Gray. However, in recent months prior to his passing, ill health prevented his attendance. A fitting tribute to Harold is posted in the obituary pages of this issue.

Our second loss was that of Stevie Stephenson. Stevie had suffered a decline in health over the past two years, which
led to his passing on the 25th February 2019. Having been a member of the branch for a number of years we all thought that we knew him really well. His service years were originally with 9 Sqn and for a considerable number of years with 22 SAS. It was during the celebration of his life in a church near his home in Durrington, that we were to learn of his extraordinary service career from his former 'B' Sqn 22 SAS commander that took us all by surprise. Many of the 300 plus seated in the church were truly amazed by the service history of this wonderful character, fondly referred to as 'Little Stevie'. He, together with Harold will be sadly missed by all that had the pleasure of their company. Stevie's obituary is posted within this issue.

With the departure of airborne forces from Aldershot, and in particular 9 Sqn, our branch numbers are in decline, but, by a chance meeting, John Lee met up with Ken Newton (former OC 299 Sqn) during the Menin Gate remembrance service. Ken, who lives in Bournemouth, attended our last meeting and has now become a member of the Aldershot branch.

Our Spring lunch, organised by Dave & Lorna Leibrick was held at the Oak Park Golf Club on Saturday 13th April. Dave pulled out all of the stops by encouraging former 9 Sqn colleagues and friends to join us at the luncheon. On the day 38 members and guests were in attendance. Not only did Dave & Lorna organise the whole event, but also provided two of the 'star' prizes for the raffle. It had previously been unanimously agreed that the raffle proceeds be donated to 'Combat Stress'. The sum raised, thanks to the persuasion of the ladies selling the tickets and Mark Desborough's jovial comments as each prize was claimed, raised the tidy sum of £261. This has been donated to this worthy cause and a letter of gratitude has been received from the Combat Stress charity.
The one regret on the subject of the Spring lunch was that I forgot to take a camera. One of the most unusual prizes, donated and manufactured by Adam Frame, was a Jerry can formed into a mini bar, with hinged door, shelves, glasses and a bottle of fine gin.

Bob Sullivan

More excellent news is that our Normandy veteran, Bob Sullivan has been accepted as an 'In Pensioner' at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Bob joined their grand ranks on Monday 13th May. At the tender age of 97 years, Bob said that it will make a pleasant change having someone to prepare his meals and other privileges. We wish him well and hope to visit him once he's got his feet 'under the table'.


The next social event will be our annual BBQ, hosted by Fred & Betty Gray. No date has yet been arranged and it has been suggested that we study the forecast for the months of July-September to hopefully select the most favourable weather conditions.

Aldershot - December 2018
Dave Rutter – Secretary

Since our last report we sadly lost one of the branch stalwart member, Phil Eccleston. Phil passed away in August having suffered a severe relapse following major surgery. More positive news is included further into our report.

Our annual BBQ, once again hosted by Betty & Fred Gray, was held on Sunday 26th August (the Bank Holiday weekend).
Some may recall that the south of England has been experiencing glorious sunny weather week after week. And so it was on the Saturday and again on the Monday — but — on the scheduled day of our BBQ it started to rain about 10:00 am. By midday it was absolutely pouring down. But with Bulldog spirit the event went ahead. It was most surprising that each and every one who had booked to attend duly arrived, dashing from their cars into the small marquees and tents erected in Fred's garden. Overhead protection was also provided for Chef Tony Manley and me, so we too managed to remain completely dry. Of course some, having studied the forecast, came fully prepared. Chris & Jenny Davies were taking no chances as shown in the photo.

The raffle receipts, (£160) as previously agreed, were donated to the Phyllis Tuckwell hospice in Farnham.

Following this rather damp experience it has been unanimously agreed that in future we shall program the BBQ in accordance with the weather forecast.

Our president, Sir Donald Spiers, using the prize won at our Spring lunch, made good his promise by attending an indoor skydive experience in Basing­stoke. What surprised him most was that his instructor had never actually made a parachute descent!

Shortly after Phil's passing, Jeannette and I visited Gay Eccleston. During our time there we were requested to find suitable 'homes' for numerous items belonging to Phil. These included a G1098 watch, blazer, car badge and many other military related items. Gay suggested that any money raised for these items be donated to BLESMA. During the Gala dinner at Chatham, the auctioneer prowess of Mick Humphries sold the G1098 watch to Ralph Young, a long-time friend and colleague of Phil for £155. Displaying Phil's blazer and many other military related items in the AEA shop, Jeannette raised yet a further £105. With a grand sum of £260 a cheque made payable to BLESMA was presented to Gay at our branch meeting on Sunday 28th October.

Speaking on behalf of the branch members who attended the 2018 AGM/Reunion hosted by the Chatham branch, we extend hearty congratulations on a super weekend. Our only fear is that we have to follow your act in hosting the 2019 event. Well done Chatham branch, we thoroughly enjoyed the whole event!

To all Association members we extend Christmas Greetings and a Prosperous New Year

Aldershot - June 2018
Dave Rutter – Secretary

The members had decided a couple of years ago to forgo meetings during January and February when inclement
weather is usually at its worst. A hasty show of hands at the December meeting, the members opted for Sunday 11th March, however as we approached that particular date it was suddenly realized that this would clash with 'Mothering Sunday' - and so our meeting was postponed until the following Sunday.

Nobody warned us that the 'Beast from the East' would dump some 6" of snow onto the Aldershot and surrounding areas on Saturday evening making travel the following morning almost impossible for many of our members. More frantic phone calls and the March meeting was delayed yet again. We finally held a very successful re-scheduled meeting on Sunday 25th March.

Our Spring lunch held on Saturday 8th April at the Oak Park Golf club was organized by our entertain­ments member, Dave Leibrick. Working quietly behind the scenes he planned and coordinated an extremely well executed event. He had developed a good working relationship with the 'Clubs events manager who in turn set out the dining room, table plan and place names.

Lorna & Dave Leibrick with Mark & Paula Desborough

Our guest included Adam & Emma Frame (from Yorkshire), Jim & Karen Doubtfire, Mark & Paula Desborough & Mick Bateman. Unfortunately, due to slight health problems, Tim van de Kraan and partner Edwina Ball together with Sally Wilson had to submit their apologies.

The 3-course lunch was probably the best we'd been served over the past 4 years. Service was speedy and food was hot. (Only complaint — carrots over done!)

At a previous meeting the members had voted to donate the raffle proceeds to SSAFA. In charge of the ticket draw Mark Desborough offered plenty of banter. Prizes, donated by the members were plentiful, but the 2- Star prizes were kept until last. I believe Dave Leibrick was responsible for organising these.

The first star prize of an indoor sky dive for two persons was won by our President Sir Donald Spiers. He later informed me that he fully intends to participate in this sport and will select one of his grandchildren to accompany him.

Sir Donald with his Sky Dive tickets

The second star prize for a round of golf for 4 players at the Oak Park Golf Cub, was won by Paula Desborough. Not surprisingly she received numerous volunteers wishing to join her on the golf course.

The raffle raised £245 which, as previously mentioned is to be donated to SSAFA.

It is with much regret that we close on a somber note. Jan Chambers, a long standing stalwart of the Airborne Engineers Association, sadly passed away on Thursday 12th April. Many will recall that Jan ran the AEA shop for many years and just as importantly was a leading committee member of the Double Hills Commemoration society. A lady truly dedicated to the good and well-being of the AEA and Airborne Sappers. She will be sadly missed by us all. Our most sincere condolences are extended to husband Chris, daughter Kelly and son Sean.

Aldershot - December 2017
Dave Rutter – Secretary

With many commemoration events held throughout the summer and autumn months many of our members have traveled near and far to attend these gatherings.

The Falklands 35th Anniversary commemoration was held in Aldershot during the weekend 17-18 June. Being on our doorstep, many branch members joined in with the commemorations, taking the opportunity to meet and greet former colleagues and friends. The local pubs and bars on Saturday were crowded with Falkland veterans and serving representatives from 23 Para Engr Regt, the Parachute Regiment and many other units and associations. It was all reminiscent of an 'Airborne Forces weekend' of yesteryear.
The Sunday program commenced in the morning with a Drumhead Service held in the Aldershot Cemetery. Later in the early afternoon, serving units, veterans and other associations formed up in front of the Aldershot Princess Hall before stepping off, led be the band of the Parachute Regiment, through the main streets of the town. Thousands of spectators lined the route and gave a rousing rounds of applause as each of the units marched past.

Henry Cooper, Geoff Barlow, Mick Humphries & Chris Davies march past the saluting dais.

Dismissed from the parade, the local pubs and bars were soon filled with individuals in various coloured berets and cap badges quenching their thirst and reacquainting themselves with former colleagues and friends.

Various branch members have also attended commemoration events at the National Arboretum, Double Hills and Arnhem.

On a lighter note, we once again held our annual BBQ in the gardens of Fred and Betty Gray. Fred and a team of helpers, mainly from Fred & Betty's family, erected a small marque and other tentage to accommodate the 40+ attending. With hindsight they needn't have put themselves to so much work as the weather on the day was absolutely scorching hot. Most used the cover to shelter from the sun.
Once again the BBQ was a great success and much praise was given to Tony our chef and to the ladies for providing the large variety of salads etc.

Our raffle raised £150 and as previously agreed at a branch meeting, the funds were donated to the "Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel Window Restoration Fund Appeal". This together with a previous donation to "Veterans in Action" brings our total contribution to charities throughout the year to £450.00.

On a welfare matter, we helped one of our member's wife in seeking the assistance and guidance from the Guildford SSAFA chairman, for her husband whose medical condition was causing concern. She has been delighted in the guidance and assistance provided by SSAFA. You will have noticed that a letter of introduction from SSAFA has been included in this issue and it is hoped that this information will be taken on board by all readers in need of help.



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